With the 2018 national draft on television, family and friends by his side and the support of all 94 Savernake citizens, Mat Walker breathed a sigh a relief as he heard his name called out at pick #63 to the Hawthorn Football Club.
The talented young Aboriginal was a dominant junior playing in a number of representative sides including Murray Bushrangers, Under 18 GWS academy, Under 18 National Allies and a premiership player in the Ovens and Murray Football Side, Albury.
Since joining the Hawthorn Football Club, Walker has taken the opportunity to help and support Aboriginals in remote areas.
At the beginning of this year Walker, along with teammates Jarmen Impey and Connor Nash, made their way to Katherine in the Northern Territory. This was a chance for them to understand more about Aboriginal culture, the hardships that can occur when living in a remote area and what they can do to support people living there.
“The Katherine Community Camp was an awesome and eye-opening experience. We learnt about the strong Aboriginal culture and history,” Walker said.
The Hawthorn Football Club created a partnership with indigenous health initiative Deadly Choices, health organisation SALT (Sport and Life Training), and youth mental health organisation Headspace, to educate young Aboriginals about the importance of a healthy diet and mental health issues.
“We launched these partnerships up at the NT and carried out the first of the sessions with the clubs and schools,” Walker said.
“We conducted footy clinics with the kids, spoke to schools about the importance of school attendance and checked out the Katherine gorge and the history surrounding it.”
The camp went for three days, and Walker believes it was one of the more rewarding experiences he has had.
“It was invaluable learning so much about our aboriginal culture and travelling to the remote areas surrounding Katherine,” he said.
“I was inspired to meet the teachers and people who travel and live in these remote areas. They just do their bit and help the young Aboriginal generation receive quality education.”
Walker saw first-hand how tough it can be living in a remote area, such as Katherine, and the ongoing work that must be provided.
“We need to continue to provide these remote Aboriginal communities with some of the best education available, so that it will allow for them to make smart choices throughout their lives,” he said.
“Sadly, suicide rates are high in NT so it’s important that we are doing our bit for mental health awareness and educating them about headspace or SALT.”
Whilst visiting a number of schools in the Northern Territory, Walker, Impy and Nash decided to work closely with the Aboriginal kids and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) to release a book called “Damo Makes His Mark.”
“The book is about a young Aboriginal kid, Damo, who dreams about playing for the Hawks, however he isn’t the most talented at footy. One day he gets knocked out by a Kangaroo and magically possess Kangaroo powers,” Walker said.
“The main goal of the book is to encourage Aboriginal kids to read books and to be proud of their Aboriginal culture.”
Since returning from the camp, Walker has continued his work with Aboriginal communities in the Melbourne area.
“We recently visited Worawa Aboriginal College in Healsville and met the students staying there who come from remote areas. We got to see artwork that they have been doing and shown the facilities,” he said.
“We also conducted two aboriginal workshops this year with local aboriginal students, where we invited (them) to come along and participate in activities learning more about our culture.”
From the recent experiences with young Aboriginals, Walker now understands how important being a role model to these kids is.
“I think we can provide that understanding that it is great to be Aboriginal and in no way does that stop you from exceeding in life and reaching your goals,” he said.
Walker will continue to work closely with the Aboriginal community and has a simple but effective goal.
“I just want to help them in any way possible to provide the best opportunities and help them reach their goals and succeed in life,” he said.
More images and videos of what the Hawthorn players got up to while in Katherine are available here: Hawthorn Community Camp.